The Real Deal on For-Profit Colleges

Their reputation is tarnished, but they can be a compelling alternative to traditional schools.

During her first year at a community college in Cumberland, Md., Jackie Davis felt at sea. "I kept switching majors. I wasn't focused, and I was homesick," she says. That summer, she researched other schools and enrolled in DeVry University, a for-profit institution with a campus near her Washington, D.C., home. DeVry's program in computer information systems struck her as perfect training for her dream career at the FBI, where she had interned. She plans to apply for a job at the agency as soon as she gets her bachelor's degree, which she should earn a year ahead of the traditional four-year schedule.

For Davis and other career-oriented students, for-profit colleges represent a compelling alternative to public and nonprofit colleges. The schools offer classes at night, online and in weeks-long sessions year-round, making them "much more flexible" than traditional colleges, says Harris Miller, of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. And they focus on job training, which in this economy would seem to offer an edge.

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Jane Bennett Clark
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
The late Jane Bennett Clark, who passed away in March 2017, covered all facets of retirement and wrote a bimonthly column that took a fresh, sometimes provocative look at ways to approach life after a career. She also oversaw the annual Kiplinger rankings for best values in public and private colleges and universities and spearheaded the annual "Best Cities" feature. Clark graduated from Northwestern University.